15th March 2021 - Early Access
24th November 2022 - V1.0
Starlight: Defence Command is a Tower Defence game designed for strategy PC gamers. My aim was to create a more in-depth and realistic interpretation of what that genre can be - to the point that it almost borders on a sim. As a result it's definitely not a casual game - there’s quite a lot going on under the hood.
For instance, there are many attributes that govern a tower’s operation, but one of those is its rotation speed. If a tower struggles to track a fast moving enemy it might not be able to get a shot off. Enemy bots will also shoot back at towers they pass, so health, armour and shields become important too.
Offensively, towers have range, rate of fire and damage, which all do as you'd expect.
The last attribute is ‘Sight’ and this plays into the fog of war system in place. If a map doesn’t have satellite coverage then the map itself will only be revealed to the Sight range of your towers. Even if there is satellite coverage, any enemies outside of the Sight range will only appear as a red dot and you will not know what the enemy unit is or its status - that's only revealed once they are in range.
The main reason I mention all these attributes is that I’ve given players the ability to create their own custom towers. Via the in-game Blueprint App, players are able to customise their towers in billions of possible configurations. Aside from being able to tweak each of those attributes, they can determine the type of projectile it fires (Bullet, Missile, Laser, Lightning, Mist) and what damage type it does (Physical, Biological, Electromagnetic, Explosive, Thermal). They can also add support abilities too like boosting other nearby tower’s damage output or slowing nearby enemies.
You can add all the support abilities to a tower that fires a bunch of missiles that inturn do biological splash damage, if you want. The limitation comes in two forms. Increasing one attribute may decrease another e.g. putting more points into the Damage attribute reduces the Rate of Fire. The second limitation is that the more you add to a tower the more costly it becomes to place.
Talking of the in-game economy, to be able to place a tower you need to earn ‘Units’ while on your assignment. This is achieved in two ways. The first being the recovery of salvage - the remains of destroyed enemy bots. The second is through a natural accumulation of them that is influenced in a number of ways.
From a story point of view, a ‘Unit’ is actually made up from a number of nanites. When you have enough volume to create a tower, those nanites go off and become that thing. This also means that the more ‘Units’ you hold onto and don’t spend, the more you can accumulate, which creates an interesting dynamic where blindly placing towers out can stall your economy. I felt this created a more thoughtful approach to the placement of towers.
The main defendable object is the Quantum Relay Station (QRS), which for all intents and purposes is a router. It's what you connect to remotely to perform your duties and without it you lose the assignment. This also houses the ‘Units’ you use and comes with some abilities that scale with your economy. For instance, you could initiate an attack buff that can range from 5% to 25% depending on how many Units you have.
Turning on these abilities (Attack, Defend and Repair) comes with a downside. While they’re on, you cannot naturally accumulate more Units through the QRS (although you do still earn salvage) creating a minor risk/reward system.
Further customisation comes through the progression system. As the player earns Mastery for completing Assignments, they can unlock Mastery Points. Mastery Points can be spent on Perks, which can provide things like simple buffs to new technologies that can be used in the Blueprint App (the tower customisation).
One last point on the gameplay side of things is that a player can fine tune the targeting priorities of individual towers or all of them at once, on the fly. This means that you can set a low damage but fast firing tower to prioritise the lowest health enemies and have a high damage tower prioritise the highest health enemies in range, making them more efficient as you're not wasting the damage output of the high damage tower on cannon fodder. It's also possible to layer on an enemy bot type too so that your towers will prioritise a certain enemy, if needed.
Regarding Enemy types, there are currently 16 different ones. They are split into 3 different categories; Common which vary on their attributes, Specials that have unique abilities and Flying, which is self explanatory. Access to these different enemy types is rolled out during the course of the campaign.
The Starlight setting is one of my own creation and has lived largely in my head for many, many years. I felt this was a good opportunity to get it out or at least a small part of it.
The basic idea is that humanity eventually established some key technologies that allowed them to flourish through-out the galaxy. One of the main ones is the use of nanotechnology. In this ‘world’ it’s a highly regulated system controlled by a single corporation. They then lease ‘Blueprint’ technology to a very small subset of people in each of the main superpowers. These people, known as Originators, then develop Blueprints that the wider populace are able to use. In the game, that is represented in the Towers and Enemy Bots, but in the wider context, pretty much all construction and terraforming is done through this technology.
The creation of Quantum Communication enabled people to be connected instantaneously throughout the galaxy. It's only capable of sending information as matter is not actually sent through the mechanism of entanglement - just the state of the entangled pair.
Space travel is required to actually send people and cargo to the various worlds, which is done onboard interstellar craft.
During the expansion, humanity expected to find alien life and while alien lifeforms have been found, they wouldn’t be considered anything more than animals. Still to the point in this story, alien life with an intelligence anywhere near that of humans has still to be found.
Regarding Starlight: Defence Command, the player takes the role of a newly graduated member of Defence Command, one arm of the Unified Protection Force (UPF). The UPF is similar to the UN where a number of member worlds have essentially banded together to create a defensive alliance. The UPF are one of several superpowers that exist, but the story in the game comes from their point of view.
The player finds themselves taking what should be an easy assignment that ultimately leads them into getting embroiled in a galaxy spanning conflict.
Art and Design
The idea is that as a Defence Commander with access to nanotechnology and quantum communication, you don't actually need to be present at the battle. Through the player's Adaptable Nanot Tablet (ANT) and the Quantum network, they are able to control battles on any connected world instantaneously. This meant humans were able to spread themselves thin knowing they can spin up a defence force very easily.
I personally have spent a lot of time enabling remote working for various companies during my career prior to this. I felt like it was an interesting way to create a sense of immersion in a game and was therefore one of the main design goals I had when first putting this game together. It was then made more interesting when it became a big thing during the pandemic a year later - suddenly many, many people could relate to this idea of remote working.
The perspective used in this game then was to have the player feel like they were accessing some software on an ANT and then through the various apps loaded on the device manage their assignments. It's why the menus are part of the game and that the art is often made from icons rather than a realistic representation. The idea being that realtime battle information is being sent lightyears across the galaxy to wherever the Defence Commander happens to be. They would need to be able to parse that data easily and quickly.
- Dedicated in-game app for customising the towers used in billions of possible combinations. Attributes can be tweaked e.g. Damage and Rate of Fire. Alter Projectile and Damage Types and grant various abilities to each of your towers.
- Player progression is determined by Mastery Points earnt and the Rank the player has gained. Rank unlocks access to perks which Mastery Points can be spent on. Perks range from various buffs to new technologies that can be used during tower configurations.
- Players are able to change the default targeting priorities for all their towers or at an individual level enabling towers to be fine tuned.
- Master the use of the economy system and its abilities tied to it. Players are given access to abilities that are affected by how much of their ‘Units’ they have unspent.
- There’s a unique Fog of War system that not only affects what the player physically sees onscreen but also what information they are given. The enemy bot types and their statuses are only revealed if they are within range of a tower.
- A typical assignment will see the player battle against thousands of enemy bots made up from 16 different types. Each has different strengths and weaknesses, some have special abilities and some are able to fly.
- Enemy bots can also damage or disable your towers and adapt their own resistances to challenge the player further.
- There are 15 assignments that make up the storied campaign. With each campaign assignment I've tried to create scenarios and objectives that go beyond that of a typical tower defence game.
- Each map can be played in the Simulator, which allows custom settings to be applied to a more typical Tower Defence game. E.g. you can set it to ‘Endless’ or start with more ‘Units’.
- Online leaderboards have been incorporated into the game so that players are able to compete for hi-scores across the numerous missions.
Starlight : Defence Command began development towards the end of 2019 before moving into Early Access on Steam mid March 2021. Updates have followed since with additional missions and features added, as I worked towards its final release.
The game was finally completed at the end of November 2022 and now had 15 campaign missions that included an accompanying story, and all the features I’d set to include.
I’ve done all the work on the game from programming to art to story by myself. It was developed in Gamemaker Studio 2.
Music was outsourced and performed by Tom Bailey of Tom Bailey Music.
Nanite Games is currently made up of one person, me, James Murphy. I'm not an industry veteran but I have spent way too much time playing games over the years and have always had a desire to make my own. Nanite Games was formed to make that a reality.
I've always really liked games that offer you depth and the ability to customise or progress in some way. That's what I want to bring to my games - a level of depth maybe not seen in a genre before.